URI’s Donna LaVallee to help battle hunger for Rhode Islanders

KINGSTON, R.I. — October 15, 1999 — A one-woman army is battling hunger in the state. Her name is Donna LaVallee of West Kingston, a member of the University of Rhode Island’s Food Science and Nutrition Department, who has been designated Rhode Island’s Community Food Security Liaison by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. LaVallee’s job is to help people become food secure, defined as when people at all times have physical and economic access to enough food to meet their dietary needs for a productive and healthy life. Armed with information and great organizational skills, LaVallee will help Rhode Island’s communities tackle both immediate hunger and its root causes. She will serve as a point of contact and provide assistance to any entity wanting to engage in new activities to bolster community food security. She is also charged with improving USDA coordination among such programs as food stamps, Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), community gardens, farmers’ markets, school meals, nutrition education, and local research within the state. She will report state data on community food security biannually and participate in national, regional, or local food security-related meetings. USDA’s nationwide Community Food Security initiative is designed to help communities build their local food systems, reduce hunger and food insecurity, improve nutrition, and move low-income families from poverty to self-sufficiency. Concern about food security sounds a bit strange in this land of plenty. We can purchase whatever we want in almost any local supermarket anywhere in this country-Mexican mangoes in May, Chilean grapes in March, or organic tomatoes in January. The prices are largely affordable. In fact, Americans spend the lowest percentage of their income on food. Yet numerous problems abound in a system that is concentrated in ownership. Local farmers are regularly squeezed out of business and low income residents in inner cities have less access to healthy and affordable food as supermarkets are scarce. These factors aggravate existing high rates of hunger and above average incidence of diet-related diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and cancer. If you don’t think food insecurity exists in this state consider this: According to the 1997 USDA Food Security Measurement Study, an estimated 35,400 Rhode Islanders went hungry. That means 1 out of every 30 Rhode Island households experienced hunger. And the number of Rhode Island households that were food insecure reached an estimated 134,000; that’s 1 in every 8 Rhode Island households. The appointment as the state’s Food Security Liaison is not a new hat for LaVallee. It’s more of a feather in one she already wears. A licensed dietitian/nutritionist, LaVallee supervises URI’s successful Cooperative Extension-Expanded Food and Nutrition Program (EFNEP), which celebrated its 30th year earlier this year. The program is tailored to the needs of limited resource families and helps them acquire the skills they need to improve their diet, at no charge, and right in their own neighborhoods. That program, funded by the USDA, began with 46 families in 1969. Since then, URI estimates that the program has served more than 30,000 families or about 120,000 individuals. In addition, since 1975, the University has brought the program into schools and has taught nearly 37,500 youngsters. Last April, LaVallee coordinated a “Town Meeting” on hunger which was televised from the URI Providence Campus where LaVallee has an office. Following the televised meeting, LaVallee helped form a statewide Food Security Coalition composed of farmers, hunger advocates, nutritionists, emergency food providers and educators. The coalition has been meeting monthly. xxx- For More Information: Jan Sawyer, 874-2116